AUSTIN - As Texans demand answers, after the Big Freeze, state lawmakers continued a marathon rounds of hearings to dig through the causes of the massive power outages that left millions in the dark. A joint hearing of the Texas House State Affairs and Energy Resources committees entered a second day, focusing on the state's natural gas industry.
The primary witness was Texas Railroad Commission Chair Christi Craddick, who has oversight of the state's natural gas industry, which was singled out, by power-generators for failing to provide fuel for electricity plants.
"These operators were not the problem; the oil and gas industry was the solution," says Craddick.
She argues the gas industry was ready for the challenge, noting that more than 99% of residential gas customers kept service. As power generators complained they couldn't get gas, gas producers couldn't get electricity to send fuel to those idled power plants.
"Any issues of frozen equipment, that caused any frustration, could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages," says Craddick.
The weak link appears to be that many of those gas producers were not identified as 'critical infrastructure', and had their power summarily turned-off, like so many others.
"What I'm still trying to understand, here, is where the breakdown in communication occurred," questioned Austin Rep. Donna Howard.
As it turns out, there was little conversation between the railroad commission and the PUC and ERCOT. Chairwoman Craddick says it's unsurprising, as there's no statute that connects gas regulation and power generation. Still, she was pressed that the Railroad Commission should have pushed the gas industry to be better prepared for the weather.
"Don't you agree, if we leave it to them, sometimes they just won't do the right thing," wondered Missouri City Representative Ron Reynolds.
"We're all in this together," answered Todd Staples, of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, "We've all got to build a system that works and has flexibility."
On this second day of hearings, there was large consensus that there needs to be a lot more talking among people and organizations, which was in short supply during the storm. Among those opportunities, is an informal and voluntary group. The Texas Energy Reliability Council puts all of the state's energy partners at the same table, and there is consideration that TERC should become official, for the future.